A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Solo Campaign - The Battle of Balsa

The Battle of Balsa, 30th May 1812

General view of the battlefield, from the North-West - the French are on
the left of the picture, with the afrancesado Spanish in the foreground.
The crescent-shaped ridge is clearly visible

A combined Anglo-Spanish force, under the command of Sir Thomas Graham, had been left as a rearguard in Northern Portugal, to protect Wellington’s main force (engaged in relieving Almeida from the risk of a siege) from Marmont’s army.

Graham had the full support of a portion of the Spanish 3rd Army, under the command of the Conde de Espana, and he selected a strong defensive position not far from Vila Real, on a crescent shaped ridge overlooking a flat river valley in which lies the Castelo de Balsa, the stately home of the Conde de Vilaverde. The Spanish troops available were in good order and condition, but the troops of his own British First Division were somewhat reduced by recent fighting – accordingly he merged the two battalions of Foot Guards into a single strong battalion, and split Major Gardiner’s depleted battery into two units of two guns each, which were placed in two earthworks constructed in the only two gullies which penetrated the main line of the ridge. The Avila Volunteer battery was placed on the hill between these two small redoubts – some concern was expressed over putting non-regular gunners in such a prominent position, but in fact they performed well – their shooting was not wonderful, but they remained solidly in position.

[CCN rules were used – 5 cards each, French move first, 7 Victory Banners required for victory – the French had available two bonus Banners – one if the British were evicted from the Castelo, and one if the French had any infantry over the crest of the ridge.]

Graham deployed his British troops on the left of his curved line, with the 2/24th positioned in the Castelo and its grounds – their aim being to delay the French as much as possible in this area.

On the Allied right, the Spanish troops took station, with the volunteer infantry in a reserve position behind the front line. The two Castilla light infantry units were placed in woods at the foot of the ridge.

Marmont had a considerable superiority in cavalry and – since the terrain was not well suited for cavalry operations – Maupoint’s 5 cavalry regiments from the Armee du Nord were detached and kept in the rear. The afrancesado Spanish troops were concentrated on the right, opposite the British units, while Foy’s French division, consisting of some fairly weak veteran battalions but with plentiful cavalry support, took station on the left, opposite Espana’s Spanish troops. Marmont’s strategy was to demonstrate against the British troops with his own Spaniards, and to assault the less steady Spanish nationalist army with his French veterans.

The action started with much artillery activity [both Bombard cards were played very early, and at one point the Allies replied to a Bombard with a Counter Attack card, which replicated the preceding Bombard]. The French avoided the Allied centre, which was very strong, and featured much of the artillery. Foy’s attack was preceded by two horse batteries, which advanced in gallant style but failed to hit anything worthwhile for most of the afternoon.

The King’s Guard, under Nicolas Guye, came on splendidly on the French right, captured the Castelo quickly and efficiently, and chased some Spanish light troops out of the woods in front of the left end of the ridge.

Foy’s attack was faced by unexpectedly determined fire from the Spanish army, and gradually ran out of momentum and men – a situation which was not helped by the loss of one of his horse batteries and the (usual) pointless expenditure of the supporting light cavalry, for whom Montbrun spotted a couple of non-existent opportunities to turn the battle.

As Foy ground to a halt, on the other flank the King’s Guard were routed from the woods, and finally broken by the heavy musket fire of the 42nd Foot and the KGL infantry. As the grenadiers of the Guard broke, Guye, who had performed well beyond expectation throughout the day, was struck down by a ball, and carried from the field. At this point the Victory Banners count was 7-5 in favour of the Allies, and Graham had won.

As the result was a Marginal Victory, and since the French had a large superiority of cavalry, both sides recovered a good portion of their battlefield missing and wounded, and the French retired without further loss.   


French Force – Marechal d’Empire Auguste Louis Viesse de Marmont

1st Divn, Armee de Portugal (Gen de Divn Maximilien Sebastien, Comte Foy)
Bde Chemineau – 6e Leger & 69e Ligne (4 bns)
Bde Desgraviers – 39e & 76e Ligne (5)
3/2e Art a Cheval (Capt. Guerrier)
6/4e Art a Pied (From reserve - Capt. Braty)

Heavy Cavalry (Gen de Divn Cavrois)
Brigade Boyer - 15e & 25e Dragons (4 Sqns)
5/5e Art a Cheval (Capt. Graillat)

Light Cavalry (Gen de Divn Montbrun)
                Brigade Curto – 3e Hussards & 22e Chasseurs (6)
                Brigade Col. Vial – 13e & 26e Chasseurs (6)

1st Divn, Armee du Centre (Gen de Divn Nicolas Guye)
Brigade Merlin – King Joseph’s Guard (5 Bns)
Brigade Casapalacios – 1e (Castille) Leger, 2e (Toledo) Ligne, Royal-Etranger (4)
Art a Cheval, Garde Royale (Capt. Desert)

Total force engaged approx 15680 men with 26 guns. Loss approx 3950 men and 6 guns; Gen Guye of the King’s Guard received a serious, but non-life-threatening wound.

Anglo-Portuguese Force – Lt.Gen Sir Thomas Graham

First Divn (Maj.Gen Henry Campbell - acting)
H Campbell’s Bde – combined Foot Guards Bn
Blantyre’s Bde – 2/24th, 1/42nd, 2/58th & 1/79th Ft
Von Loew’s Bde – 1st, 2nd & 5th Line Bns KGL
9th Coy, 8th Bn Royal Artillery (Maj. Gardiner)

Spanish Force – Genl. Carlos, Conde De Espana
De Espana’s Divn, Spanish 3rd Army
                Godia’s Bde – 2. Princesa & Tir de Castilla
                Truxillo’s Bde – 1. Sevilla, 2. Jaen & Caz de Castilla
                Foot Battery (Capt Herrera)

Provincial Bde (Col. Julian Sanchez)
                Zamora & Avila Vol Bns
                Foot Battery (?)
                1. & 2. Lanceros de Castilla (6 Sqns)

Total force engaged, approx 13420 men with 14 guns. Loss approx 2320 men, and 5 of the Spanish guns were disabled by enemy fire.

Detail losses:

French – 2/69, 2/39 (-3 blocks each), 2/76, 3/2e Art a Cheval (-2 each), 5/53 Art a Cheval (-1), 3 Huss, 1/Gd Grenadiers (-3 each), 1/Gd Fusiliers (-4), 2/Gd Fusiliers (-2), 2nd Spanish Line, Gd Horse Battery (-1 each)

Anglo-Portuguese – 2/24th, 2nd Line Bn KGL (-2 each)

Spanish – 2. Princesa (-1), 1. Sevilla (-2), Caz de Castilla (-1), Herrera’s Foot Battery (-2), 1. Lanceros de Castilla (-3), 2. Lanceros de Castilla (-1)

The Pictures (Nick wasn't present for this one, so the standard of photography has dipped a bit)

The 2/24th Foot at the Castelo

Spanish troops on the Allied right

Graham set up his units carefully, with the reserve line held back to
allow the front line room to manoeuvre (or run away)

Old School Bellona earthworks - how cool is that?

Put that man on a charge - one whiff of a Cavalry Charge command card
and Montbrun is off like a madman...

This is where it comes to grief - Montbrun's flashy attack, with
Leadership bonus, is stimied by a First Strike card played by the
Allies, and his hussars are in serious trouble...

Command Cards again - the 42nd Highlanders and a KGL battalion,
with bonus shooting dice because of a Leadership card and the presence
of Generals Loew and Blantyre, put paid to the King's Guard grenadiers
and Nicolas Guye, and that's 7 Banners - thank you and goodnight...

The high water mark - this is as far as Foy's attack got - he
was running out of men

The Position at 31st May 1812

A Footnote on CCN Command Cards

A couple of comments on recent posts have suggested that the Command Cards in Command & Colors, Battle Cry, Memoir 44 and kindred games are a weakness, and I’ve had a couple of emails to the same effect – i.e. it’s difficult to get any decent movement of your army when the cards limit you to moving in dribbles – two here, one there and so on. I am happy to accept that people have to get what they want out of their games, but I’m pretty certain that I disagree with this particular point.

This week I have fought two battles which were pretty large by most standards – a couple of divisions a side, and were certainly large for CCN. The cards kept the movement restricted to small groups of units, admittedly, but the turns rotate at an unprecedented speed, and the gamer has the advantage that he can focus on the army in detail – something like the old proverb about the wisdom of eating an elephant one mouthful at a time.

No swimming of the head, no need to go check your email while your opponent thinks about his move, and then ask him to explain what happened – the game goes tika taka, to borrow a current buzz phrase. It moves in small steps, but very quickly – you can see it develop.


  1. Good to see those S Range Spanish in mumbers

  2. A most impressive batrep. And the castello model is lovely.
    You are one of several folks I know (The Kinch is another) who seem quite up on CC. As one about to dip a toe in the Napoleonic stream, I may give it a try.

    1. Thanks Mike - I don't wish to appear to be selling CCN, or to be overenthusiastic, but adoption of these boardgame rules for use with my miniatures has really fired me up on wargaming again - as I have said on numerous occasions (at every chance, in fact...), my wargaming is now the same level of fun that I hoped it would be when I started off all those years ago.

      I'm sure you are familiar with Lee's blog, but if not, check out


      for the account of someone coming new to the game - inspirational.

      Cheers - Tony

  3. Well done Graham! Should give him some brownie pts with the new Boss. Just as well the Sepoy General eked out a bloodyskin of the teeth Pyrrhic victory. He can leave with some honour on a high note without giving anyone reason ti doubt their decision. At least not till they see what Ban can or can't do.

    As for the cards, as I slowly creep out of the camp of nay sayers, let me say that not only to "turns" speed by but they cards allow, almost encourage thoughtless gamers to move a couple of units ahead one turn and then move them again next turn, taking them beyond reach of supports into the midst of their enemies. Of course it also allows them to come back and move some one else the next turn so as to maintain a co-ordinated attack but at a slower pace. Its a matter of choice and length of available rope.

    1. Both armies are getting a bit frayed - there's been a lot of action in a small number of weeks. Regrouping and reorganising seems an urgent priority, and having a Spanish army in Portugal is not good politically!

      CCN is, I suppose, like a great many games, in that learning it seems to go through a number of stages:

      *1 - get the hang of the rules and mechanisms

      *2 - learn how to make a reasonable job of commanding an army using these rules; with CCN, as you know, it is very much easier to defend as a beginner, and it takes a fair amount of experience to co-ordinate the various arms, to make any kind of decent use of artillery. An important learning step is becoming familiar with the nature of the strategic cards and the need to husband them.

      *3 - only then can we really form judgements on whether the game in any way corresponds with the historical period it aims to simulate - what, in the 1980s, used to be rather pompously termed "the true flavour" - especially by people whose grasp of the period was obtained from half-understanding the WRG and similar.

      I would not claim to be any kind of a general, but I am stuttering my way through stage 3. The majority of the criticisms, inevitably, come from people who are a little way into stage 1 - but this is certainly true of most critiques of wargames, especially my own views on other people's games!

      Having played the game for 18 months or so now, with no prior knowledge of any of it's precursors, I am still very pleased with it - the cards are an artificial device, to be sure, but they appear to work, and they are a primary element in why it succeeds. Individual mechanisms may be debated for accuracy or realism, but the games are both reasonable and entertaining - I am positive that CCN is not the only Napoleonic game I will ever wish to play, but it has been a revelation for me.

      Cheers - Tony

  4. A great game write up Tony, very enjoyable to read and excellent detail.

    As for CCN, it has revolutionised my wargaming experience, and at last I have found a game system that allows me to enjoy wargaming again. I have tried many sets of Napoleonic rules over 30 years, but never have I played a set that gives me so much sheer pleasure and enjoyment in my games. I understand exactly what you mean.

    All the best,